Current research in neurological disease and pain management

A dog licking its nose, outside in a field covered in yellow flowers, under a blue clear sky

Identification of the genetic variant that causes spongiform leukoencephalomyelopathy (SLEM) in the Border Terrier dog breed

Master’s Degree by Research: £39,411 awarded in 2024

Institution: University of Cambridge

Spongiform leukoencephalomyelopathy, or shaking puppy syndrome, is a degenerative spongiform change of myelin in the white matter of the central nervous system, principally in the cerebellum, brainstem and spinal cord. This project aims to identify the causal genetic variant (confirming previous studies or identifying a new, linked variant) and understand how and why that variant is pathogenic, leading to improved treatments or disease management.

 

Effectiveness of low-level laser therapy for the treatment of osteoarthritis-associated pain in client-owned dogs

Clinical Research Project Grant: £10,000 (including £5,000 from The Debs Foundation) awarded in 2022

Institution: University of Cambridge

Osteoarthritis is a progressive, degenerative disease that causes chronic pain and decreased joint function. Common treatments include the long-term administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and nutraceuticals, potentially with the addition of gabapentinoids and opioid analgesics; however, these may be ineffective and associated with gastrointestinal, hepatic, and renal side effects. Recently, there has been an increasing interest in non-pharmacological therapy including electroanalgesia techniques using laser. This prospective trial will investigate the effectiveness of low-level laser therapy to treat osteoarthritis-associated pain in dogs affected with either elbow or shoulder osteoarthritis.

 

Autoimmune encephalitis in cats: beyond the tip of the iceberg

Master’s Degree by Research Grant: £39,961.60 awarded in 2022

Institution: University of Oxford

Diagnosis and management of seizures is an important challenge in feline health. In the UK, 0.16% of cats presenting to first opinion practice have recurrent seizures, while seizuring cats may represent as many 3.5% of referral patients. Seizures can be due to swelling of the brain (encephalitis), and in autoimmune forms of the disease the immune system produces antibodies against the brain itself, e.g. against molecules such as LGI-1 seen in cats with Feline Partial Cluster Seizures with Orofacial Involvement (FEPSO). This was investigated in another recent PetSavers-funded project by the same group.

This master’s degree will assess long-term outcomes in antibody-positive FEPSO cats treated with corticosteroids and expand diagnostic testing for FEPSO.

 

Comparison of the performance of a smartphone facilitated manually adjusted target controlled infusion of propofol in comparison with a conventional variable rate infusion in dogs undergoing elective surgical procedures

Clinical Research Project Grant: £9750 awarded in 2021

Institution: University of Oxford

Propofol is an anaesthetic given by injection into a vein which can be used to induce and maintain general anaesthesia. It is traditionally administered as a continuous infusion with the dose calculated according to patient bodyweight. However, this does not take into account tissue accumulation of the drug over time, and requires manual recalculation of the dose when a change in the depth of anaesthesia is needed. Target controlled infusion (TCI) aims to overcome these problems using data from pharmacological studies to predict the blood concentration of propofol. This is widely used in human medicine, and although it has been researched in dogs, clinical use is limited.

A system for manually adjusted propofol TCI in dogs, utilising a smart phone, has been developed and tested in computer simulations. This study will test its performance in real patients.

 


 

Past research in this area

 

Improving recognition, diagnosis and treatment of cats with seizures due to autoantibodies of the central nervous system, a treatable cause of feline seizures and status epilepticus

Clinical Research Project Grant: £8000 awarded in 2020

Institution: University of Oxford

Diagnosis and management of seizures is an important challenge in feline health. In the UK, 0.16% of cats presenting to first opinion practice have recurrent seizures, while seizuring cats may represent as many 3.5% of referral patients. Seizures can be due to swelling of the brain (encephalitis), and in autoimmune forms of the disease the immune system produces antibodies against the brain itself, e.g. against molecules such as LGI-1 seen in cats with Feline Partial Cluster Seizures with Orofacial Involvement (FEPSO). FEPSO cats can be successfully treated with inexpensive drugs such as steroids, but awareness of the disease is low so this opportunity may be missed.

This project aimed to raise awareness of FEPSO as an important differential diagnosis, and improve its diagnosis through developing new tests. The work is now complete and results will be available soon. An abstract was presented at the Association of British Neurologists conference in 2022 and the team reviewed the scientific and clinical aspects of LGI1-autoantibodies in feline patients for The Veterinary Journal. Dr Sophie Binks was also interviewed for our Meet the Researcher series.